October 31, 2021

The Ongoing Irony of SCREAM

SCREAM (Blu-ray Review)
1996 / 111 min


Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

25 years later, it might be hard to appreciate just how groundbreaking Scream was at the time. Arguably the first self-aware slasher film - it ironically breathed new life into the very genre it methodically deconstructed. In the process, Scream became as influential on 21st Century horror as Halloween and Friday the 13th were on the ‘80s. 

Slasher movies were briefly en vogue again, especially those hell bent on conveying their own hipness. But Scream’s influence extended beyond mere slice & dice spectacles. Excluding pure parodies, serving-up tongue-in-cheek references to traditional horror clichés has itself become cliché. Even Scream ultimately fell victim to its own cleverness, ironically becoming a franchise and running the concept into the ground.

So context is everything, because without it, Scream will come across to newcomers as...well, a tired old slasher film with a ridiculously silly killer. But knowing it was the first of its kind makes one really appreciate the deceptively smart script, which is stuffed with references to films that were still part of everyone’s horror vernacular back then. In a narrative masterstroke - again, for the time - the characters are equally aware of those films and tropes (though they don’t always heed their own advice when it comes to survival).

Someone obviously doesn't understand the concept of personal space.
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson deserves some of the credit, but a most should go to director Wes Craven (RIP). Who better to deconstruct the horror genre than one who made a career from it? As such, Scream may not be his best, but is certainly his smartest. In another example of irony, it was arguably the mass appeal of this film that briefly allowed Craven to explore other genres. 

And Scream ain’t quite dead yet. Even though the novelty wore off years ago, there’s a fifth film due in early 2022. But like most horror franchises, the original is likely to remain the best of the series. It’s being re-released on Blu-ray for its 25th anniversary, though the only significant upgrade is a new - and brief - retrospective featurette that doubles as a promotion for the new film. Enormously influential, Scream belongs in every respectable horror fan’s collection, and if it already is, you can probably give this particular disc a pass. But if not, here’s a chance to discover - or rediscover - where it all began.


“A BLOODY LEGACY: SCREAM 25 YEARS LATER” - The only new bonus feature, it features a few original cast members, but at least half of the interviews are people involved with the upcoming sequel.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson.

FEATURETTES - Behind the Scenes; Q&A with Cast and Crew; production featurette (these are all carried over from previous disc releases).


October 29, 2021

THE AMAZING MR. X and the Gullible Gals

THE AMAZING MR. X (Blu-ray Review)
1948 / 78 min.


Review by Mr. Paws😽

Well, I don’t know about amazing, but he’s certainly conniving. And I’m not sure why he’s been dubbed “Mr. X,” since at no time is he ever referred to as such. This film was originally called The Spiritualist, which is a bit more accurate, though I suppose The Amazing Mr. X looked cooler on a marquee.

Despite the sensationalistic title, this isn’t a sci-fi or horror film. It’s more of a noirish little thriller with Turkish heartthrob Turhan Bey as Alexis, a phony spiritualist who dupes gullible rubes into believing he can help them communicate with departed loved ones. His methods are quite interesting and we can easily see how they might trick the dimmer bulbs of our species.

Speaking of which, Christine (Lynn Bari) is a wealthy widow haunted by her dead husband, Paul, at which time Alexis is conveniently on-hand to help her speak to him. Younger sister Janet (Cathy O'Donnell) and Christine’s new fiance, Martin (Richard Carlson), suspect he’s a con man, but Alexis is good enough to convince Janet he’s legitimate. Then during a seance, Paul speaks out for-real, to even Alexis’ surprise. But it turns out Paul only faked his death and now needs money, which he plans to get by forcing Alexis to continue his ruse while courting Janet (who’s become smitten by him). In the meantime, Paul will continue “haunting” Christine to coerce her to an untimely death, which would result in Janet inheriting everything.

To his dismay, Mr. X discovers someone even more amazing.
The story, of course, depends on both Christine and Janet being utterly stupid, which is fine, I suppose. After all, if the past few years have taught us nothing else, it’s that more people than we ever imagined are dumb enough to believe anything they're told. Still, it doesn’t render these two ladies all that sympathetic, especially considering Christine’s increasingly callous treatment of Martin, the one guy trying to save her through reason. What makes the film fairly engaging, however, is watching Paul & Alexis’ plan unfold, which takes a little patience because we have to wade through a lot of first-act melodrama. However, we’re rewarded with a fairly decent climax.

Elsewhere, The Amazing Mr. X benefits from a gothic aesthetic, enhanced by moody cinematography by John Alton. The scenes in and around Christine’s cliffside mansion - overlooking the ocean - are especially effective, with creative lighting and soft focus giving the outdoor scenes an almost dreamlike quality.


FEATURETTE - “Mysteries Exposed: Inside the Cinematic World of Spiritualism” 

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By film scholar Jason A. Ney

SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET - Includes an essay, “The Amazing Mr. Bey,” by Don Stradley.

October 28, 2021


There’s no denying that audiences tend to find basements pretty scary. After all, that’s why horror movies keep going back to the creepy basement. However, have you ever wondered what the scariest basements across all of horror are? Here are, no doubt, the six scariest basements that you might ever see in a horror movie.

6. Psycho

One of the scariest scenes in Psycho takes place in a basement. When the main character, Lila, goes into the underground fruit cellar of Norman Bates’ home, she discovers the mummified corpse of the man’s mother, stored in the basement where he’s been keeping her all these years.

5. The Conjuring

When people think of horror movies, many people think of The Conjuring as one of the first movies that springs to mind. The concept revolves around a family who has just moved into a new farmhouse, until they start noticing creepy elements happening in their home. The whole story revolves around a creepy basement full of all sorts of oddities, including a possessed doll named Anabelle.

4. The People Under the Stairs

This horror-comedy movie is an exciting romp, but the basement itself is definitely scream-worthy. The concept revolves around a home break-in, upon which the intruders discover deformed cannibals in the basement. These cannibals, terrifyingly enough, are actually children who were stolen from their parents, then kept in the basement.

3. The Evil

This classic horror movie revolves around a home built over hot sulfur pits in New Mexico. However, when some friends decide they want to spend the night in the home, they realize that these “sulfur pits” are actually much scarier than they thought, and are instead a hole to another world, through which they start experiencing horrors.

2. Get Out

The classic colonial style of the Alabama house in Get Out is part of the horror of the movie. The basement is where the main character Chris is strapped into a chair and put under hypnosis. He goes to the “Sunken Place” and his body is prepared for a transposed consciousness, a truly horrifying possibility that looms overhead throughout the movie.

1. The Silence of the Lambs

If there’s one basement that might well show up in your nightmares, it’s this one. Buffalo Bill, the serial killer of this movie, has a dry well in his home where he keeps women he’s kidnapped. He starves them to remove their skin more easily. That’s definitely a scary enough basement to end up at number one on this list.


Basements are pretty scary, but in real life, it’s possible to have a basement that’s not scary at all. You just need to make sure you’re taking care of it. No matter what your basement looks like or what you’re hoping your basement will look like in the future, these six basements from movies and TV definitely weren’t subject to the same helpful treatment. Instead, these basements are scary enough to haunt your nightmares.

October 27, 2021

RETRIBUTION: Supernatural Shenanigans...'80s Style

RETRIBUTION (Blu-ray Review)
1987 / 109 min


Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Retribution is a (very) ‘80s horror film that never got a fair shake at the box office. It was pretty much thrown away by its distributor, being unceremoniously dumped into only a handful of theaters before popping up on video shelves. And like so many other fright films of the decade, it became a minor cult favorite.

Still, Retribution remains comparatively obscure compared to, say, The Hidden, which is sort of a shame because, although conceptually different, they share a similar aesthetic. Those who consider the ‘80s to be the golden age of horror owe it to themselves to check this one out, because not only does it serve-up some sensational savagery, it’s very-well made on a limited budget.

Pity poor George (Dennis Lipscomb), a down-on-his-luck artist who survives an attempt to kill himself. At the same time, local loser Vito is sadistically murdered, but is somehow able to inhabit George's body. Whenever George falls asleep, Vito takes over and ventures out to get revenge on those who killed him...in a variety of nasty ways. But unfortunately, George remembers the murders after awakening. Still, he can’t convince his shrink, Dr. Curtis (Robin Wing), that he’s suffering from anything more than a nervous breakdown. Lt. Ashley (Hoyt Axton), on the other hand, is convinced George himself is responsible, especially in-light of his emotional instability.

Available for parties.
The story itself is somewhat derivitive, but what makes the movie really pop are the main characters, especially George. He’s genuinely endearing and sympathetic, so much so that we truly pity what’s happening to him. He’s well-played by Lipscomb, who does a tremendous job conveying emotional vulnerability, most apparent during George’s growing romantic friendship with his neighbor, Angel (Suzanne Snyder), a sweet-natured hooker. 

However, one significant narrative misstep is how the antagonists are introduced. We know George/Vito is out for vengeance, but learn almost nothing about his targets - or Vito, for that matter - until the film is two-thirds of the way over. In fact, the first time we even see any of them is just before they die. While we ultimately concur they have it coming, their grisly deaths would be more satisfying if we witnessed their atrocities against Vito beforehand. 

Speaking of which, Retribution features some pretty vivid death scenes, punctuated by good ol’ fashioned practical effects that are more-or-less convincing. This Blu-ray set features both the original U.S. theatrical cut and the much-ballyhooed Dutch version, the only difference being that the latter lingers on these creative kills a little longer. Those with an appreciation for such things should definitely pop-in the Dutch cut. Additionally, there’s a generous batch of retrospective bonus features, including numerous entertaining interviews and an audio CD of Alan Howarth’s synth-happy score (it was the ‘80s, after all). 


“WRITING WRONGS” - Interview by co-writer Lee Wasserman.

“SHOCK THERAPY” - Interview with actor Leslie Wing.

“ANGEL’S HEART” - Interview with actor Suzanne Snyder.

“SANTA MARIA, MOTHER OF GOD, HELP ME!” - Interview with actor Mike Muscat, who plays Vito being burned alive in a flashback sequence.

“SETTLING THE SCORE” - Interview with composer Alan Howarth.

“VISIONS OF VENGEANCE” - Interview with FX artist John Eggett.

“THE ART OF GETTING EVEN” - Interview with artist Barry Fahr.

“LIVING IN OBLIVION” - Interview with production designer Robb Wilson King.

AUDIO COMMENTARY- By director/co-writer Guy Magar.

“BINGO” - Early short film by director Guy Magar.





October 26, 2021


THE SUICIDE SQUAD (Blu-ray Review)
2021 / 132 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😻


The smartest move DC ever made was to quit concerning themselves with cinematic world building and focus on making (mostly) standalone films that were simply entertaining...and didn’t require a master’s degree in Snydernomics to appreciate.

Their second smartest move was nabbing James Gunn for The Suicide Squad, and not just because the first film was terrible. Material like this needs Gunn’s flair for irreverence, clever dialogue and, most importantly, instilling characters with engaging personalities. He may not have created Suicide Squad, but this adaptation has his stamp all over it. 

And for the first time since his directorial debut, Slither, Gunn is unbound by the restrictions of a PG-13 rating, something else the material really needed. Hence, the film is vivid, violent and vulgar, yet at the same time, seldom feels pandering or gratuitous. Punctuated by gobs of gags and hilarious dialogue, the movie earns its dismemberments and f-bombs along the way. In fact, the whole thing plays very much like Guardians of the Galaxy without a filter.

King enjaws a snack.
And like Guardians, it’s ultimately the characters that matter. Ironically, the one we’re most familiar with - Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) - is the least interesting, perhaps because she’s already been established with two previous films and there isn’t much more Gunn could do with her. But everyone else is wonderfully realized and played perfectly by the ensemble cast. As Bloodsport, the de-facto leader of this new team, Idris Elba strikes the right balance of stoicism and uncertainty, while John Cena (as Peacemaker) once-again demonstrates he’s more adept at comedy than pure action. Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmaichian) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) are also fun, each with amusing backstories. But King Shark steals every scene he’s in, a perpetually hungry manfish who manages to be both monstrous and endearing (and a role Sylvester Stallone was born to play).

With the exception of Task Force X director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the antagonists are perfunctory. Their plan, however, is gloriously insane; the dictator of Corto Maltese plans to wipe out America using a 30-year-old experiment gone wrong: Starro, a giant extraterrestrial starfish that spawns face-hugging offspring to re-animate & control the dead. This leads to a final act that’s as hilarious as it is grotesque, aided by amusing visual effects.

Unlike the first film - which was mostly just bells & whistles - The Suicide Squad is the complete package, delivering an abundance of action, humor, violence and well-realized characters. James Gunn’s playful approach is just what was needed, making it the best - and maybe the smartest - DC film since Christopher Nolan hung up his spurs. 


FEATURETTES - “Bringing King Shark to Life”; “Gotta Love the Squad” (a mini history of the comic series); “The Way of the Gunn” (gushing praise for the director, who probably deserves it); “Starro: It’s a Freakin’ Kalju!” (how the climactic monster was created); “The Making of the 4 Most Epic Scenes.”

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By writer-director James Gunn.


GAG REEL - A pretty long one, too.

3 RETRO STYLE TRAILERS - Not trailers that were actually used, but pretty funny.


October 25, 2021

WARNING and the Dark Side of Personal Technology

WARNING (Blu-ray Review)
2021 / 86 min


Review by Fluffy the Fearless😼

Playing almost like an anthology film, Warning is both intriguing and frustrating. 

The narrative juggles several stories related to the dark side of personal technology, or more specifically, how it negatively impacts or influences our lives, often at the expense of real human interaction. Though technically science-fiction, the gadgets presented in the film represent the logical evolution of devices that already exist, adding an unnerving level of plausibility. 

The only tenuous connective thread between these stories is that they take place during some kind of apocalyptic global phenomenon. The film opens with satellite maintenance worker David (Thomas Jane) becoming stranded in space, which serves as a frequently-revisited wraparound story for the other ones, some that are resolved in a scene or two, others that recur throughout the film are often left open-ended. Segments include a tech salesman deciding the fate of an obsolete android, a young man who uses VR to stalk an ex-girlfriend and a woman whose immortally-enhanced boyfriend is also programmable (by his domineering parents). 

David spots his house.
The best story might be the most culturally relevant, in which religion and prayer is typically practiced using an Alexa-like box named God. When one woman’s device stops working, she doesn’t know how to speak to God manually, but is later horrified when her upgraded box appears to be truly omniscient. As for David...he has no chance of returning to Earth, so he spends his remaining time recording a message to his neglected daughter (even though she’ll never hear it). 

Warning presents some provocative ideas and disturbing insights on how the seemingly innocuous tech-toys we take for granted can enable questionable behavior and have psychological consequences. Unfortunately, most sequences don’t come to any kind of satisfactory conclusion, positive or otherwise. They simply end, which is probably by-design since the abrupt (and bleak) climax precludes any traditional closure. Those expecting anything resembling traditional conflict resolutions or character epiphanies will likely be a little frustrated.

Still, Warning is sometimes an intriguing film, partially because of its unusual narrative structure, but mostly because the dark path taken by these characters seems alarmingly plausible...maybe only a few years from now.

October 24, 2021

A Trio of Terrors for the Spooky Season from WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Just in time for Halloween, Warner Archive serves up a trio of terror titles...a classic sequel, an oddball obscurity and a dark double-feature from a legend of low-budget horror. For adventurous fright fans who are looking to go really old school this season, all three are interesting alternatives to what generally passes for horror these days.

1963 / 89 min

Children of the Damned is the less-renowned sequel to the classic, Village of the Damned, released three years earlier. Since Village is arguably one of the greatest British horror films of the decade, doing any kind of worthy follow-up was always going to be a tall order. 

But while the law of diminishing returns certainly applies here, Children isn’t without considerable merit. Rather than rehashing the same horror, this one focuses more on the sci-fi elements of the concept while throwing in some surprising social commentary. There’s a new batch of creepy kids with terrifying abilities, this time gathering in England from around the world. But the real antagonists are the various governments who want them back to exploit their powers, or destroy them if they can’t.

One noteworthy aspect of the film are the two lead characters, Tom Lewellin & David Neville (Ian Hendry & Alan Badel), who wish to study the children, not destroy them. They also happen to be live-in partners, making this a particularly progressive story element considering England’s legal views on homosexuality at the time. 




1966 / 96 min

Directed by J. Lee Thompson, Eye of the Devil initially came & went with little fanfare, but earned some belated notoriety after David Hemmings became a star and Sharon Tate was murdered. 

However, the film has more to offer than that, a somewhat surreal - some might say disjointed - journey into a world in which cult-like traditions and behavior are explored. Deborah Kerr plays Catherine, a well-to-do wife and mother whose husband, Philippe (David Niven), is summoned back to the old vineyard which has been in his family for over a millennium. Against his wishes, she follows him there with the kids in-tow, eventually discovering the family’s (very) dark past and paganistic rituals (of which Philippe is regrettably involved).

Sometimes maddeningly ambiguous, Eye of the Devil is nevertheless an atmospheric, creepy film with a terrific cast (Donald Pleasance, in particular, stands-out with a menacing performance as an evil priest). Thematically, the film could even be seen as a spiritual precursor to The Wicker Man. Though never as artfully presented, this film has enough quiet tension and haunting moments to make it worthwhile.



1943 & 1946 / 149 min (2 movies)

In some ways, producer Val Lewton was to the ‘40s what Roger Corman was to the ‘50s, the preeminent purveyor of low budget horror. But unlike most of the quickies cranked out by Corman and his ilk, Lewton’s films often emphasized atmosphere and mood over cheap thrills. Not every film he produced was compelling, but nearly all of them were at least interesting to look at.

For example, 1946’s Bedlam doesn’t rank among Lewton’s best, but benefits from an inherently spooky setting - a lunatic asylum - and an entertaining performance by Boris Karloff. He’s actually sort of miscast - looking really awkward in 18th Century garb & wig - but certainly seems to be having a good time. The story, however, isn’t particularly original or engaging.

The Ghost Ship, on the other hand, is a tension-filled gem and arguably the best Val Lewton film hardly anyone has seen. Russell Wade is Tom Merriam, the new third officer onboard the Altair, a cargo ship commanded by narcissistic, tyrannical Captain Stone (Richard Dix). As the voyage continues, Stone becomes increasingly unhinged and eventually homicidal, deliberately causing the death of a crewmate. However, the crew refuses to back-up Tom's story during an inquiry, either out of loyalty or fear. 

Tom ends up back on the ship, ostracized by the crew and now fearing for his life, leading to a suspense-filled final act. Despite the title, this is more of a psychological thriller than pure horror. The Ghost Ship tells a gripping story, anchored by an unnerving performance by Dix, who effectively conveys Stone’s slow descent into madness. And like Lewton’s other films, the setting sets the tone, with the ship serving as a dark, claustrophobic prison (ultimately for both main characters). 





1934-1935 / 279 min (4 movies)


Review by Mr. Paws😽

Four low budget films produced outside the Hollywood studio system - aka “Poverty Row” - are included in this two-disc set. With no unifying theme or genre, the only common thread is that they were originally released in the mid-thirties and are efficiently made with limited resources. Some offer more fun than others and there’s a surprise or two to be found.

Kicking things off is Midnight, a meandering melodrama that takes place on the eve of a woman’s execution, mostly focused on its impact on the Weldon family, whose patriarch was the jury foreman during her trial. This one is noteworthy for an early appearance by Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role as a gangster. It was re-released in the late ‘40s as Call it Murder, this time with Bogey’s name prominently featured in the main titles and promotional material. He’s easily the best part of the film, but only appears in a few scenes. The rest is comparatively rote.

Watching Back Page, I was eventually struck by a bit of deja vu. Then about half-way through, it hit me...this film was included as a bonus feature with the Blu-ray release of Deluge a few years ago, presumably because both starred Peggy Shannon. She plays a reporter who leaves her big city job to work at a small-town newspaper, dealing with local politics and no small amount of resentment. Shannon is good - and it’s a shame she died so young - but the fact that 30 minutes passed before realizing I’d seen it before is a testament to how dull it is.

"Another one of your dirty limericks?"
Conversely, Woman in the Dark is a crackling little crime drama featuring a very young Ralph Bellamy as John Bradly, on parole and hoping to start over. This is made difficult when he comes to the aid of Louise (Fay Wray), trying to escape her powerful-but-cruel ex-lover, Tony (Melvyn Douglas). John & Louise become fugitives after he punches one of Tony’s thugs, who ends up in the hospital and might die. Since John was first-convicted for a similar incident, a manhunt ensues. This film features some genuine suspense and Tony is certainly a hateful antagonist - even ordering the death of a dog! - but the movie belongs to Bellamy, who makes a stoic antihero.

But the highlight of this set is The Crime of Dr. Crespi, an enjoyably histrionic variation of Poe’s “The Premature Burial.” Erich von Strohein chews up the scenery as the titular character, using his authority and medical expertise to get rid of rival Dr. Ross, who stole his girlfriend. Trusted to perform an emergency surgery on Ross, Crespi administers a drug that simulates death, thus assuring the man will be buried alive. This entertaining slab of psychological horror benefits from an inherently morbid premise and performances that aren’t particularly subtle, but certainly a lot of fun.

It would be pretty cool if Flicker Alley intends to make In the Shadow of Hollywood an ongoing series. There’s definitely a lot of forgotten Poverty Row quickies waiting to be rediscovered and the films included here - two per disc - have been nicely restored for Blu-ray. From an entertainment standpoint, Woman in the Dark and The Crime of Dr. Crespi are minor gems, while Midnight (Call it Murder) at least offers a look at pre-stardom Bogey. Back Page is little more than disc filler.



SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET - Features an essay, “Poverty Row Film Studios in the Early 1930s.”

October 23, 2021

SURVIVE THE GAME: Chad & Bruce...Together Again

SURVIVE THE GAME (Blu-ray Review)
2021 / 97 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

At the very least, Survive the Game isn’t yet another Bruce Willis smash & grab where he shows up for a few minutes in exchange for a paycheck and prominent billing. While I’m certain he’s still here for the paycheck - sometimes looking a bit drunk - his character actually sticks around for awhile. Still, he’s third banana to a couple of younger, hunker stars - Chad Michael Murray and Swen Temmel - neither of whom would’ve been fit to polish John Maclane’s badge back in the day.

Not to be confused with Survive the Night - an equally low-wattage action flick teaming Willis & Murray - this one features dedicated cop Cal (Temmel) trying to rescue wounded partner David (Willis) from a gang of drug dealers. They’re holding David hostage in an old farmhouse owned by Eric (Murray), still brooding over the death of his family, meaning he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. But he insists on helping Cal because the farm is all he has left. Meanwhile, inside the house, David spends the majority of the film tied to a chair and taunting lead henchman Frank (Michael Snow), yet another graduate from the Hans Gruber School of Villainy.

Once again, Bruce questions his life choices.
The Die Hard references are appropriate, since Survive the Night follows the same blueprint, albeit on a much smaller scale. We have the out-numbered protagonists and severely overconfident bad guys, most of whom are just cannon fodder. Cal & Eric fight & grimace their way through a variety of the dumbest thugs I’ve seen in recent memory, which turns out to be a terrific source of unintentional humor. My favorite scene has the two dispatching a few baddies in a barn, and even though gunfire is exchanged, none of the thugs holding vigil just outside the door hear a thing!

The film is loaded with similarly hilarious implausibilities, such as a scene where Frank shoots Eric’s neighbor and could also take-out Eric, standing ten feet away. Instead, he watches dumbfounded as Eric scampers off, and then orders his men to go after him. Elsewhere, Willis provides a lot of embarrassingly bad wisecracks and threats before managing to fight his way to freedom. Bruce sure as hell ain’t the action hero he used to be and in-no-way are we convinced this old man could take on guys half his age.

However, the ridiculous action and phenomenally stupid characters are part of what makes Survive the Game sort-of a hoot. Despite the dead-serious tone - or perhaps because of it - a lot of this is actually pretty funny, compounded by an abrasive techno score to remind us how cool everything is supposed to be.